April, 2010 – Our Own South Florida Dog Whisperer


Our Own South Florida Dog Whisperer


By Marla E. Schwartz



Jay Meranchik, South Florida resident and well-respected dog whisperer, discovered a key element to the anti-aging process when he was still a kid. It’s his ability to value, understand and literally communicate with dogs that makes him unique. He’s not only a superlative dog trainer, teaching individuals how to build relationships with their dogs, but is one of the first pioneers in the field of pet therapy in this country.


Jay teaches Max how to push a shopping cart. Photo by Marla E. Schwartz.
Jay teaches Max how to push a shopping cart. Photo by Marla E. Schwartz.




“I helped create the laws that allow pets into nursing homes, hospitals and institutions,” Jay explained. “I’ve been recognized with a Jefferson Award, appeared in a Walt Disney educational film with my own dog, and was honored in proclamation by local commissioners.” Jay’s natural ability to bring out the best in people by introducing his dogs to them in such settings has turned into something that many of us take for granted. Always naming his dogs after superheroes, he’s currently the proud owner of Maxine (nicknamed Max), named after Jessica Alba’s character {Max Guevara, a secret government supersoldier} in Dark Angel, and it’s clear, by watching them together, that their relationship is a very special one.


Although Max looks like a German Shepherd, she’s actually a Belgian Malinois, and at a tender-age of 16-months, attends to Jay’s every need, and he does the same for her. Jay suffers from a rare form of polio that is characterized by progressive symmetrical paralysis and loss of reflexes, usually beginning in the legs. “I got polio from the polio shot when I was fourteen,” Jay explained. “A small percentage of people contract the disease this way.”


Jay and Max. Photo by Marla E. Schwartz.
Jay and Max. Photo by Marla E. Schwartz.




“It happened when they switched from the vaccine to the sugar pills,” he said. His body obviously didn’t have a good reaction to it. And growing up in the projects of Brooklyn, NY – he already had a rough start in life. “I grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island and in the projects the only pets you were allowed were fish and birds. No cats. No dogs,” Jay said. “But the fish and the birds were all I had when I had got sick and they meant everything to me.”


“I realized something was wrong right away, but it wasn’t until I fell down in school and couldn’t get up anymore that other people noticed,” Jay said. Today Jay looks like the pillar of health and one would never know he has a disability. He suffers deep pain, but it’s nothing that’s visible to the eye. He has what medical professionals refer to as an invisible illness. “That’s a problem because people think there is no problem when there is one,” he said. “I fight it all the time.”


Therefore, Max is more than merely a pet, although his joy at having her in his company is self-evident, but she’s his working dog. Max is always ready to work and enjoys demonstrating her skills. Jay gives a command from the couch, “Max, go open the refrigerator and get me the water.” She does. “Good girl. You didn’t close the refrigerator (she’s young, she’s learning), go close that door.” He makes two clicking noises and she closes the door and returns to Jay. “She also gets the newspaper every morning and she starts the vacuum cleaner up for me.” Max has a training area in the backyard where the climbs the ladder, walks on the balance beam and more. She’s even learning how to push a grocery cart.



Jay and Max
Jay and Max

Jay’s fondness of animals was unmistakable as a young child because he used to run away to the local pet shop for solace. One day the owner hired him to come and work after school and feed the animals. Jay was in his element. Later on he worked as an animal handler in a biological lab that sold rat, monkey and dog cells. “They were taking dogs and killing them and selling their cells. I ended up quitting because I couldn’t take it any longer,” he said. Before quitting, he saved a liter and adopted one of the dogs. This dog became his first working dog named Natasha.




It was at the lab when he ran across research papers written by psychiatrists about using dogs as a catalyst for response in patients. “I’m a different individual than most,” he said. Meaning, he realized understood that this research suggested there was a need to train dogs to help therapists reach through the emotional conflicts that existed between them and their patients.


Jay originally moved to Florida to help take care of his mother, but he also had other plans, as well. In September 1974 he created his first organization, the Feeling Heart Foundation, based in Miami Beach. “Animals, up to this point, weren’t allowed in institutions,” he said.  His mother had a lot to do with opening up his eyes and teaching him to pursue his gift. “My mother was a woman full of faith and she took care of me when I got polio, and every time I’d reach a goal and she’d see somebody who was less fortunate than I was, whether the person suffered from polio or some other form of a crippling disease, and say, ‘there by the grace of God’. She knew I had a gift with animals and for years I didn’t know what to do with it and she’d tell me that when God is knocking at your door you just have to listen and you’ll figure it out. Finally one day I put it all together and I said I can help.”


He tries to hold back tears when speaking about his mother. “My mother raised me, and I was born and raised Jewish, and one of the things she always impressed upon me was how to make the world a better place,” Jay said. “She said that’s our job. She’s gone now. She passed away a couple of years ago from old age. She was almost 90-years-old.”


These days Jay is busy creating a new foundation called The National K-9 Working Dog, Inc, that will create a national database registry for all working dogs (Police, Search & Rescue and Service) so they can be given critical equipment needed to protect their lives and well being while doing their jobs serving and protecting the public. “I just started it at the beginning of the month and this is the evolution of what I’ve been doing all my life,” he said. “In talking with the Florida state police I found out that there isn’t a retirement program for these dogs, and without one police officers are taking on a financial burden they may not be able to handle. The dogs don’t live much longer after retirement, so the state should at least continue its financial responsibility for these dogs for their last couple of years. Otherwise, and it’s unfortunate, but most police dogs are euthanized.” Working dogs deserve much more respect than what currently exists.


And here’s Jay’s advice, whenever you see a working dog helping someone who is disabled, please don’t bother the dog. “When we enter a grocery store or a restaurant the public is really not aware of how to proceed and react to a service dog, so I’m trying to raise awareness in order to teach people what is not appropriate. Dogs can be easily distracted and they’re supposed to be paying attention to the person they’re servicing, so if you pet it, that’s a distraction and it’s harmful to the disabled person.” Jay has been invited by the Broward county library system to come in and speak to the children about service dogs and how to take care of and understand their pets.


There’s are people who love animals and a few special people who are considered dog whisperers . . . Jay is certainly both!

All rights reserved.  This article is re-printed from Lighthouse Point Magazine with permission from the editor.

Editor’s Note: THANKS to Marla E. Schwartz for contributing this special story this month! For “Pet Talk,” Frances Goodman will return next month with more pet advice. 



Marla E. SchwartzA native of Toledo, OH and a graduate of Kent State, Marla E. Schwartz has been a professional journalist since she was a teenager.  She’s a Senior Writer for Miami Living Magazine, and a freelance writer for CRAVINGS South Florida in Aventura, as well as Around Wellington Magazine, Lighthouse Point Magazine, and P.A.N.D.O.R.A.  An avid photographer, her images have appeared in numerous Ohio publications, as well as in Around Wellington Magazine, Lighthouse Point Magazine, Miami Living Magazine, The Miami Herald, The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and The Palm Beach Post.  She has had numerous plays published and produced around the country.  Her short play, America’s Working? was originally read at First Stage in Los Angeles and in the same city produced at the Lone Star Ensemble.  It was then produced at Lynn University in Boca Raton, FL and taken to an off-Broadway playhouse by its producers Adam and Carrie Simpson.  Her piece, The Lunch Time Café, was a finalist for the Heideman Award, Actors Theatre of Louisville. She has also written a handful of screenplays with one opted for production a few years ago.  Feel free to contact her at: meschwartz1@hotmail.com.